Barca eyeing 'historic' chance in title showdown
Xavi admits team had given up hope ahead of winner-takes-all clash against Atletico tonight
Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez has admitted he was too quick to write off his side's La Liga title chances as they host Atletico Madrid tonight knowing a win will hand them a fifth title in six years.
Xavi was among a number of players who claimed Barca's chance had gone with a 2-2 draw at home to Getafe two weeks ago, but a remarkable end to the tightest title race in years in Spain in which the top three have failed to win in their last seven combined games has gifted the Catalans a second chance.
"We thought that we didn't have a chance and perhaps we threw the towel in too soon," said the Spanish international. "We thought the league was lost, but these things happen in football and now we have everything in our favour to win. It is a very important title and we need to be united. It is a historic opportunity. It will be a spectacular finale."
Victory would secure an eighth league title for Xavi and a seventh for the departing Carles Puyol and Victor Valdes, but he insists the most decorated squad in Barca's history still have the hunger to succeed.
"We have a great generation of players. This is a unique match, a unique opportunity, which may never come round again. It would be the icing on the cake for this generation to play in such a vital match."
However, to win the league Barca will have to do something they have failed to in five previous meetings this season and beat Diego Simeone's exceptionally well-organised Atletico side.
Barca have managed just two goals in those five encounters and have yet to go in front in any of them, which makes the first goal the key for Xavi.
"They are the best team defensively, they press high, they are solid and attack with variation. One of the keys to the game is to go ahead to make them have to come out more."
Neymar is the only Barca player to have scored against Atletico in those five encounters and the club are hopeful that the Brazilian will be fit to feature at some point after over a month out with a foot injury.
Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba have also returned to training, but the match is likely to come too soon.
Atletico are hopeful star striker Diego Costa will be fit after a hamstring problem. Costa is unlikely to be risked if there is chance of him aggravating the injury with the Champions League final against Real Madrid just a week away.
A La Liga and Champions League double would seal the best season in Atletico's 111-year history; defender Filipe Luis insists they are enjoying the experience. "We aren't under pressure, we have a great responsibility. We have overcome very difficult teams in the league and the Champions League and we are in a very important moment in the history of the club," he said.
"It hasn't been easy, but we have got here with a lot of hard work and now we need to finish off the season in style. The game will be like the others against Barcelona this season. They have great quality and almost never lose the ball."
There are also issues to be resolved at the bottom of the table tomorrow as Osasuna, Valladolid and Granada look to avoid joining Real Betis in being relegated.
Lionel Messi, meanwhile, agreed an improved contract for the four-times World Player of the Year, Barca said yesterday.
Barca did not publish details, but the deal replaces the current contract that expired in June 2018 and are expected to have enhanced Messi's status as one of the best-paid players in the game.
Local media reported Messi would be tied to the club a further year, to June 2019, and would be paid €20 million (HK$212.3 million) a season plus a possible five extra in performance-linked bonuses.